Building A Successful Theme Park

BBy studying the Theme Park industry, we can gain valuable insights into the design of our own new amusement park in North Central Massachusetts, created by us, the local residents.

Learn From Disney

It’s difficult for a new organization to develop brand recognition, brand identification and product differentiation. We can learn a valuable lesson from Disney, who is the number one theme park operator in the world. Remember, even though a new Whalom Park would not be in the same league as Disney, most of the guidelines will still apply, and others need to be scaled down.

Whalom Park has one big advantage: it has been around much longer than Disney (107 years vs. 63 years) and already has a solid reputation in the minds many generations. The task will be to reinvent the concept of the park and educate the public on why they should visit the New Whalom Park when it opens, and more importantly right now, why ordinary residents should get involved with the New Whalom Cooperative, LLC to make it a reality!

Disney’s main strength is in its resources and in the experience in the business. The company clearly has developed a very strong and well-known “brand-name” over many years. Disney has also been able to diversify its operations and products to hedge against decreasing sales in product lines.

In recent years it has diverted into Home Video, Film, merchandise, Radio broadcasting, Network television and of course in theme parks. It has also effectively globally diversified its operations from USA to Japan and Europe. The main strengths in internal resources refer to human resources and financial stability.

Employees in the Disney studios appear to be extremely innovative and in recent years they have produced several box-office productions. A Company without new ideas is doomed in today’s competitive business environment.

Theme Parks And Tourism

The relationship of theme parks to tourism is complex and highly dependent on the park’s scale, quality, and uniqueness. Typically, residents from within 1.5 to 2 hours will account for 80 percent of traditional theme park visitation. Even the tourist visitors are often in the area for other reasons (such as visiting friends and relatives). Thus, just having a theme park does not automatically insure an influx of tourism. Rather, to impact destination tourism, a theme park must:

  • Be unique, a “must see” destination. This can be accomplished through character development (Disney, Universal), architectural form (Legoland), natural features (Gilroy Gardens), special events and programming (Disney, Dollywood) or a combination thereof.
  • Have large scale and a critical mass of attractions. Investment levels to impact international tourism generally must exceed U.S. $150 million.
  • Combine high technology with human scale and quality service.
  • Investments in the thrill hardware must be combined with a high level of service from the “hosts and hostesses” so that a unique local culture and friendly human contact is balanced to the high technology.
  • Encourage overnight stays. The principal economic benefits of tourism come when overnight stays are generated. Day visitors or tourists who stay with friends and relatives generate only 20 percent of the economic impact of tourists staying in hotels and motels ($50 versus $250 per day).
  • Thus, in designing a theme park for tourism, a destination with multiple attractions (with experiences that can occupy two or three days) are more likely to have the desired impact. Tie-ins with the local Chamber of Commerce are very important in creating packages for tourists, networking with travel agents who market your destination to customers both national and worldwide.
  • Have complementary destination activities. Tourist-oriented theme parks should be part of a mix of recreation and leisure activities. A true tourist destination would also have supporting recreation uses such as high-quality hotels, convention and conference facilities, resorts, recreational shopping and dining experiences, and sports activities including golf, tennis, and water-related activities, and excursions into nearby local tourism areas.
  • Support media (TV) coverage and exposure. Like most other things in life, future theme parks must be designed for television. The use of theme parks and resorts as backdrops for variety programs, celebrity games, sports competition, and convention/conference broadcasting are increasing rapidly, and the resultant TV exposure is very important in creating awareness in tourism markets.

Themed to country/region

New parks will have stronger theming tied to the country or local region. Theme parks are increasingly becoming a symbol and showcase for regional pride, culture, and technological achievement. The danger here, of course, is that by being too serious about “cultural” tourism the parks can cease to be fun. The primary purpose should be first and foremost; entertainment!

Part of larger mixed-use destination projects

  • In the urban/suburban context, we now see theme parks and large scale attractions being designed into regional and specialty shopping complexes, mixed-use waterfront developments, and even some multi-use office buildings.
  • In more rural settings, additional components often include destination resorts, bungalow parks, shopping/restaurant villages, and special events centers/trade expositions.

Greater visitor participation and interaction

  • New attractions are being designed to provide greater participant control and encourage interplay between the visitor and their environment. This is a natural outgrowth of both available technology and the demonstrated appeal of such involvement at places like the San Francisco Exploratorium.
  • New thrill rides are being offered where the rider can individually control the experience and intensity of the ride. Future thematic concepts will be based more on participative activities (sports, music) that relate to the audience rather than comic book characterizations.

Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of development is in the area of simulation. Advances in technology have allowed attractions designers to realistically duplicate virtually any natural or special effects experience. By combining extremely high quality visual imagery with seats that are programmed to move with the action, visitors can realistically enjoy experiences that were previously unavailable in a theme park environment.

Greater water orientation

A greater use of water related activities, attractions and landscaping is occurring in theme park design as well as in nearly all forms of real estate development. Several parks (Ocean Park, Hong Kong; Dreamland, Australia; Walibi, Belgium) combine an active water park with more traditional themed rides and amusements..

Animal displays and performance

Parks such as Sea World are still popular but future expansion will be limited by restrictions on capturing and displaying aquatic mammals. We see a continuing acceptance of new, high technology aquariums using acrylic tunnel concepts which combine a scuba diver’s view of the undersea world with a ride experience. Some of these will be developed in the open ocean.

Design for all-weather operation/artificial environments

New theme parks are designed to have more covered attractions as well as climate-controlled walkways and rest areas. This allows for shorter amortization of high capital investment and fixed cost components. New theme parks are being designed with a greater degree of weather protection in order to enable a longer operating season and longer operating hours per day.